How to Clean an Alto Sax Mouthpiece

The alto saxophone or alto sax is the most common type used by jazz players, marching bands, and military bands. According to the Orchestra Expert, a buying guide for musical instruments, it was invented by Adolpe Sax, thus the name. In conjunction with the keys and rods, the mouthpiece produces the sound that is unique to this musical instrument. Sites such as offer different types to suit your needs.

Cleaning the Mouthpiece

The importance of cleaning the mouthpiece of your alto sax cannot be stressed enough. Since your mouth can transfer food particles and bacteria to the instrument, the mouthpiece is a breeding ground for buildup. Mold can even be present. This can cause you to become ill. Cleaning regularly is crucial. It is recommended that you clean the mouthpiece at least once a month and more often if the sax is played on a daily basis.

In addition to the bacteria and food particles, saliva is collected in the mouthpiece. This causes limescale buildup. The limescale causes the sound of the saxophone to change as well as causing the mouthpiece to become hard to remove.

When Limescale is a Problem

If limescale becomes a problem, use hydrogen peroxide or vinegar to help you remove it. This can be accomplished with peroxide by soaking the mouthpiece in the solution for approximately two hours. Soak two large cotton balls in vinegar that is from 4% to 6% acidic.

Use one of the cotton balls to place on the mouthpiece window for about ten minutes. Take it off, and use the other cotton ball to wipe off the limescale. When the buildup is really bad, you may have to repeat this process a second time.

Limescale can often be removed from the mouthpiece of the saxophone with a small brush such as a toothbrush. There are also bottle brushes made specifically for this purpose. Use it to simply brush the limescale off the mouthpiece.

You may need to wash the mouthpiece with lukewarm water and a mild detergent. This is generally sufficient to remove any bacteria that are present, and you will be able to get to the limescale to remove it using one of the above methods. Never use hot water and strong detergents. They can cause damage to the saxophone.

There are swabs made for cleaning the mouthpiece. They have an attached string that allows them to be put in the neck and pulled through the mouthpiece. These swabs help to remove some saliva and bacteria, but this is not a thorough cleaning. Mouthwash can also be used to soak the mouthpiece for a few minutes. Air drying the mouthpiece will help to prevent the return of moisture that causes mold.

A More Thorough Cleaning

An alto sax mouthpiece has a reed that is responsible for producing sound. A more thorough cleaning can be done by loosening the ligature, removing the mouthpiece, reed, and the neck of the saxophone. All of these parts make contact with your mouth when you are playing the saxophone. The reed is also prone to mold and bacteria.

Once you have removed the mouthpiece, reed, and neck, wipe the reed with a special swab or a clean towel. Make sure the towel is dry. There are also brushed that are made for this purpose. This is just a quick way of removing moisture.

An in-depth cleaning for the reed will be accomplished by soaking it in a mixture of warm water and vinegar. Rinse the reed with warm water. This will remove buildup and kill any germs. It is recommended that you do this about once a week to ensure that it is free of moisture and germs.

There are times when simply cleaning the reed will not suffice. They are replaceable, and although they are expensive there are certain signs that it is time to toss out the old one and replace it with a new one. Because bacteria that are present in your mouth will cause mold to grow on the reed. Black mold growing on the reed definitely means it is time to get rid of it and get a new one.

There are different types of reeds. The ones most often used are generally made of wood. However, synthetic reeds are becoming more popular, since they do not grow mold as often as the wood ones. They are also do not wear, warp, or crack like the wooden ones.

How you take care of your alto sax will show in the condition of the instrument as well as the sound. A good alto sax can cost thousands of dollars. If playing the alto sax is a passion, a way of producing income, or just something you like to do occasionally, it is important to keep your saxophone in the best shape possible.

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